I’ve been on a bit of a live music roll. Elvis Fest in Tupelo, MS, kicked it off last weekend. Wednesday night was Oh Wonder and two other bands in the barn at Codfish Hollow. Yesterday I attended a party in honor of my cousin Linda’s retirement after 30 plus years of teaching music. There was a band and dancing and even some Karaoke by Linda’s talented friends and family.
But a highlight this past week music-wise was seeing the “World Famous” Glenn Miller Orchestra with Dan, my dad and some close friends Thursday night at the Coralville Performing Arts Center near Iowa City. Big band music is not country music, the genre I usually write about. But watching the super-talented, 16-piece band perform classic hits like Moonlight Serenade, In the Mood, Little Brown Jug, String of Pearls and Pennsylvania 6-5000 is as Americana as it gets. The band, led by Nick Hilscher, featured trumpets, trombones, saxophones and clarinettes, plus a piano, upright bass, drums and a great vocal soloist, Maria Schafer.
The concert was nostalgic – there was a high stack of yellowed sheet music in front of each musician, no iPads in sight – but the songs and energy of their delivery seemed fresh and cool.
According to GlenMillerOrchestra.com, Glenn Miller started his big band in 1937 and was one of the most prolific and successful bands of the early 1940s. They recorded the first song ever to be certified as a gold with Chattanooga Choo Choo. Glenn Miller eventually became a bandleader in the US Army Air Corps and while on his way to a Christmas day show in Paris in 1944, vanished in flight. His music lives on with the official legacy orchestra we saw Thursday. According to Mr Hilscher, they perform 48 weeks or about 200 shows a year. Road warriors.
Our friend Harry organized our Thursday evening outing and he was thrilled to have enough takers to pretty much fill up the fourth and fifth row of the theater’s center section. He has been a Glenn Miller fan since he was a kid. Although he’s a child of the 60s, his parents ran the dance hall in Stockton, IA, and their patrons enjoyed dancing to big band music.
My dad went to high school in the 40s so big band music was his pop music. His era’s big band leaders like Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller were the fan frenzy equivalent of my era’s pop gods Prince, Michael or Bruce or Garth or Journey or fill in your favorite. Dad and his friends spent many evenings at the ballrooms surrounding Delavan Lake in Wisconsin where he grew up and where big bands came from far and wide. Later when my dad was stationed in the US Air Force in Columbus, OH, he and my mom met at a dance.
As a youngster I loved to watch them dance the jitterbug and other dances at
weddings and parties. As I got older, Dad taught me to dance, too. Mom, who is gone now, joked that she’d loan him for one dance per evening but that was all. Yesterday I persuaded Dad, now in his 80s, to allow me one short turn at my cousin’s party. That was special.
By the end of Thursday evening, Harry and Dad ended up sitting next to one another and I could hear them exchanging words of approval and excited “yeahs” when numbers like American Patrol, When Johnny Comes Marching Home and Springtime in Paris began. It was fun to listen to them. What a great evening rekindling a wonderful era in American music history!
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